Getting Answers Exclusive: Cuyahoga County Children and Family Services speak about case assessments amid recent child deaths

CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - Cuyahoga County Division of Children and Family Services agreed to a sit-down, round-table style interview regarding how CCCFS assesses and services child cases exclusively with Cleveland 19 News, Tuesday.

This, after the death of a 4-year-old Euclid girl who previously had an open case with CCCFS but was closed due to lack of evidence during CCCFS's 2017 investigation.

Cuyahoga County Children and Family Services Deputy Director Tamara Chapman-Wagner and Deputy Director Jacqueline McCray explained their policies and procedures regarding child welfare investigations. It was mutually agreed upon by Cleveland 19 News and CCCFS that no specific cases would be discussed during the interview.

Cuyahoga County Children and Family Services says they are always looking for ways to improve. "Are we a perfect system? By all means no we are not. But are we a system that is open to listening and a system that is open to making adjustments to improve the services we provide to children and family and how we approach our investigations? Absolutely!" says Jacqueline McCray.

McCray has over 28 years of experience in the field of child welfare and has spent the last ten years as Deputy Director of Extended Services and Resources & Placement for the Cuyahoga County Division of Children and Family Services. "We as an agency also have a sense of sadness and we take that as something that we need to go back and internally look back in terms of what we're doing"  says McCray.

Heads turned locally and nationally to CCCFS after the death of Aniya Day-Garrett, age 4, who died suddenly at a residence on March 11. The child died from head injury complications and suffered from malnutrition. Her mother, Sierra Day and mom's boyfriend Deonte Lewis were arrested and charged with aggravated murder.

Aniya Day-Garrett had reported to her daycare provider 8 out of 14 times according to a Euclid Police report, how her mother was hurting her between 2015 and 2017. According to a Euclid Police report statement by Tamika Robinson, the ownership of Aniya's daycare, Harbor Crest Childcare Academy, changed in 2017. It wasn't until May 2017 when Aniya arrived to the daycare with head wounds, and a bleeding ear, that daycare's Administrative Assistant Tamika Robinson found the pattern of abuse. Robinson immediately called for an ambulance when she saw the child's head. She filled out what's called a "child observation form" and went to put it in the child's folder. When she opened the file, Robinson saw the other reports, and what appeared to be a pattern of abuse. The 14 incident reports noting mom's abuse and the child's physical injuries were handed over to CCCFS and the Euclid Police Department.

After Aniya's death, Cuyahoga County Children and Family Services reported to Cleveland 19 News that they received three calls regarding Aniya Day-Garret in 2017 and a case was opened and closed after six weeks. There wasn't enough evidence to remove Aniya from the care of her mother, Sierra Day.  Aniya's father Mickhal Garrett had filed for a home study in February, trying to seek custody of his daughter over growing concerns. CCCFS was in the process of the home study when Aniya died.

The death of Aniya and other children who have had cases with CCCFS forced Cleveland 19 to start looking into policies, and asking questions. What is the policy for removing a child from the home? What criteria needs to be met or what evidence must be present to file an injunction with juvenile court and have a child removed? How can we get kids out of harm's way?

Tamara Chapman-Wagner is another Deputy Director for Children and Family Services in Cuyahoga County, Ohio. She has a passion for working with children and their families, especially those children that have been abused and/or neglected. She has 29 years of experience in child welfare.

"We operate a 24-7 hour kids hotline 696-KIDS and that is staffed by 41 social workers and they receive all the phone calls regarding allegations of abuse or neglect. Through that process, when they document that phone call, they are making the decision whether that case needs to be screened in or screened out. The final decision lies with the supervisor. If it is screened in, it goes to our investigations unit for another worker to go out and investigate that family."

What happens after the call has been received and an investigation is needed?

"The referral is prioritized as emergency or non-emergency. There are other smaller classifications, but If it's an emergency it goes to an investigator and case workers have 1 hour to go out and make contact, if it's a non-emergency case workers have 24 hours to go out and make contact. That worker does the investigation, they conduct a safety assessment. They look for factors to determine whether a child is safe to remain in their own home and then they decide if the case will need further services or intervention or to shut it down" says Chapman-Wagner.

When does CCCFS remove a child from the home?

"Imminent risk. That means the child's life is in danger right now" say Chapman-Wagner.

To give you some perspective, Chapman-Wagner explains just how many calls they receive a year. "We received about 74,000 phone calls. About 50,000 of those were people who wanted to talk to DCFS. Of that 35, 000 merited our intervention of some sort, and again of that 14 or 15,000 actually get investigated. They might think they want DCFS but sometimes the county gets lumped in or a provider gets lumped in. Our 41 workers are handling all of those phone calls and trying to make a determination as to who is the right person to address that."

It could take some time to know exactly why Aniya wasn't removed from her mother's home, despite having open and previously closed cases. The agency is conducting an internal review into how it handled her case.

Here are some helpful links to look-up your child's daycare reports, how to report neglect and abuse, and what policies exist for Cuyahoga County's Division of Children and Family Services:

How to report neglect and abuse

Cuyahoga County Children and Family Services Policies and Procedures

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